The Prodigal Dog

It is so hard not to be cross when Rex runs off. You call him, and without even a backward glance he keeps on running towards something he would rather be doing than keeping you company.

I think of the parable of the prodigal son where in essence the younger son is a waster who leaves home and the older son is a good boy. After many wrongdoings, the younger son eventually comes home prepared for trouble, but instead of punishing him, dad celebrates his return because he was lost and is now found. The father holds a feast to celebrate which includes killing a fatted calf reserved for special occasions. (The good-boy son is jealous, but there you go).

How is this relevant?

Rex runs off, he wallows in the stagnant brook, he rolls in fox poop, you shout until you are hoarse but he ignores you to steal a picnicker’s sandwich. He chases a horse and nearly gets kicked; he brings a jogger down. He then gets the scent of a female on heat.

He’s gone. You stand on the spot you last saw him – for hours, but he doesn’t come back. You go home and put notices out everywhere. You offer a reward. He’s all over social media.

Weeks pass with no sign of your dog. Life may be “easier” but it’s an unhappy life without Rex, even though you still have your other lovely dog who always comes back when called and never, ever swims in stagnant brooks, rolls in fox poop, nicks sandwiches or runs off after bitches in season

Then, one day many months later, Rex appears on your doorstep, thin, bedraggled and with a nasty wound on his side. He does not smell great. The Prodigal Dog is home.

You are overjoyed! Out comes the fatted calf (or chicken). Your other dog may be wondering what all the fuss is about but, dogs being dogs, is probably more than happy to be getting some of the feast.

On a simpler note, if people applied the same principle to dogs that come back only after they have first finished what they would prefer to be doing, there may well be fewer lost dogs and dogs killed on roads. How likely is Rex to come back right away if he knows it will result in the leash going back on or something else unpleasant? However “annoying” you may find his behavior and however it might feel like rewarding him for ignoring you, I would say the longer it takes him to grace you with his presence, the more he has to be treated like the Prodigal Dog and given the fatted calf treatment or, do you know, he may well find something else he would rather be doing for now than keeping you company.

Before he decides to go on his own adventures like Rex, he needs to have restricted freedom while he learns what ‘coming back when called’ really means. It means ‘drop what you are doing and come right away’ because your human means food, fun and play, always something worth coming back for.

A ‘Paws for Thought‘ blog.

About Theo Stewart

I work as a canine behaviour trainer - a sort of dog supernanny! I am a VSPDT (Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer) and a member of the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers amongst many other things. I was originally involved in 'old-school' dog training and am a cross-over (I'm no spring chicken sadly). The advantages of having personally experienced both force and force-free methods is that I have proved over and over how much more effective and permanent positive methods are.

One comment

  1. Theo, I found Prodigal son comparison very interesting. Even more interesting to me, as I am looking to start a Bible Study for all animal lovers. I have been involved with the field of AAI for almost 11 yrs with thousands hours working in many different venues. I enjoy the purpose of the Prodigal because no matter what our dogs do we except them back with open arms and we do throw a feast for them.
    I will suggest Susan Garretts Recaller program. Her training method is to allow the dog to make the choice. I was shocked at how you could change a dog to choice correctly.
    I also came from the original negative dog training method and found that force free training was much rewarding.

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